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Varicose Vein Treatment Improved

Two methods avoid painful 'stripping'

Not long ago, the only treatment for varicose veins involved surgical "stripping" -- cutting through the skin, tying the bloated vessels off and removing them. Besides leaving visible scars, patients needed weeks to fully recover. Newer treatments, however, seal off the veins from the inside, and patients often go back to work the same day.

Varicose veins develop when the one-way valves in veins begin to leak, almost always in the legs. The backflow of blood ultimately expands the size of the vein, exacerbating the problem. Besides being unsightly, varicose veins can make the legs tender and painful.

Two new treatments use catheters threaded into the affected veins. A radio frequency device or laser heats the inside of the vein as the catheter is drawn through. The heat seals the vein, which later shrivels and disappears. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration already has approved the radio frequency treatment. The laser method has been approved for other uses, and doctors are allowed to use it at their discretion as an "off label" application.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer describes how either procedure can be completed in about 45 minutes. The American Academy of Dermatology explains alternative methods to treat varicose veins, including one called sclerotherapy in which a chemical solution injected into the veins causes them to close. It's often used to treat smaller vessels or so-called "spider veins."

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission warns consumers that many quack "cures" promise to treat varicose veins. To spot suspicious doctors or treatment centers, look for buzzwords in their ads claiming "major breakthroughs," "permanent results," "painless" or "absolutely safe" methods. LincOn.com reprints an FTC fact sheet on fraudulent cures. It also provides a realistic description of the approved treatments. The Web site also tells how to report dubious advertising claims in the United States.

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